In Fall 2009 I will be teaching Managerial Economics, a course I have taught here at SCSU twice already. The book I used both times is Baye’s Managerial Economics and Business Strategy, 5e. Most managerial economics books are pretty similar, but what I like most about Baye is the variety of homework questions. Some are based on theory, some are mathematical applications of the theory, and others require students to use Excel, which I think is extremely important. Students will use Excel their entire lives, so spending some time early on becoming familiar with it is going to pay dividends for decades. Students download data off the accompanying CD (or from the course website for those that bought a used book) and they run regressions and use the results to answer questions.
I placed my textbook order for the class last week and I requested the fifth edition thinking that was the latest one. Usually publishers know when you use their book and, when they have a new version, they send you a desk copy for free. I never got a new version of Baye, so I figured there was no sixth edition. As it turns out, there is in fact a sixth edition. I asked the textbook representative for McGraw-Hill to please send me a new copy so I could see if it is worth having students buy the latest version.
I got it in the mail yesterday and I cannot fully express how furious I am at McGraw-Hill. On the back of the sixth edition, it says the following:
Some exciting features in the Sixth Edition include:
- New learning objectives: Each chapter begins with clearly identified learning objectives, designed to enhance the learning experience and help implement AACSB assurance of learning standards.
- Enhanced Time Warner Case Study: Includes nine additional end-of-case problems (called Memos).
- New end-of-chapter material: Over 30 new problems and applications were added to enrich the learning experience.
The “new learning objectives” are things like: “Illustrate how changes in prices and income impact an individual’s opportunities” and “Explain how accounting costs differ from economic costs.” These are basic. If you read the chapter, you’ll figure out what you’re learning. Maybe there is a little value-added in this, but it’s not much.
The Time Warner case study is actually pretty cool. It goes through the merger of AOL and Time Warner from a managerial economics perspective and has you analyze different aspects of it. It was already very thorough; now it’s a little better. But to do that case well, I would need to spend three weeks in class on it and I don’t have that much time anyway. And these updates could easily be put on the textbook’s website for professors to download and give to their class. A whole new book doesn’t need to be printed to add these 3 pages.
The new end-of-chapter material consists of about 2 new homework problems per chapter, increasing it from 19 to 21. The other 19 are exactly the same as they were before.
Aside from those three things, nothing in the book has changed. All the examples are the same. All of the graphs are the same. I flipped to a random page in the new version of the book, page 520 (out of just under 600 total in the book). That page is exactly like page 518 in the previous version. In 520 pages, they only added enough material to increase the book length by 2 pages — and that was just the 2 extra questions per chapter.
I sympathize with my students when it comes to buying textbooks. I am offended for them that a company can make a few tiny changes, call it a “new version” and get people to pay $125 (and that’s on Amazon; it’s more in the bookstore) when they can get the previous version on half.com for $20-$40. I told the bookstore that there is a new version but I am not requiring it and I will tell my students to buy a used fifth edition, so the bookstore can go ahead and order the sixth edition but I doubt anybody will buy one anyway. Then I e-mailed my textbook rep and told him that I find it despicable that they published a new version when so little content was changed. I’ve already made the order so I’ll use the book this time, but in the future, I might switch to a different book just to make a point to the publisher.
When does this kind of thing stop? When enough professors stop requiring the new version, and the message finally gets through to publishers who pull this kind of thing. There is a new textbook company called Flat World Knowledge. They offer free e-texts for students, and if there’s too much eye strain reading off the computer screen, they can get a printed copy for as little as $30. There’s very little variety in their offerings right now, but they’re expanding their titles and the authors seem pretty reputable. That’s the wave of the future, and I plan to be a part of it; I e-mailed them and told them I am willing to help write a book or supplemental materials. As professors, we don’t always think about how a textbook affects students. If I save students $40 each on a textbook, that might not seem like a big deal. But when you have 30 students, that’s $1,200 the class is saving as a whole. And if every professor does that, it saves students a few hundred dollars a year.
My message to professors: find ways to save your students money. Don’t require the latest edition of a textbook. And if you like those new homework questions, type them out and put them on your course website so students can buy a previous version and still have access to the new questions.
My message to students: explore your options on used book websites, and make sure your professor provides a copy of the textbook on reserve at the library. Professors can request an extra free copy for this purpose, and publishers almost always oblige, but sometimes we forget. And even if we have an extra copy, we don’t want to bother with taking the book to the library and filling out the forms if nobody is actually going to check the book out. But if you remind us about it, we’ll think you’re going to use it and then we’ll feel like we’re actually saving our students money, and we’ll do it.